No athlete anywhere, ever, wants to complain about their aching back. Yet far too many, from weekend warriors to Olympians, have that complaint. In many, if not all cases, it’s due to rotational forces made in the lumbar area of the lower back.
Too many athletes whose sport requires rotation of the torso (which is to say, plenty of sports) confine all their rotational movement to the five vertebrae at the bottom of the spine. This puts a lot of stress on that area. Remember, of the 33 bones that make up the spinal column, only five vertebrae make up the lumbar section in the lower back.
The worst off are golfers, because their sport requires extreme rotation of the lumbar area.
According to the site Mitch Medical Healthcare, “Golfers notoriously have the highest incidence of back injury of any professional athlete.” The site also suggests that a majority of golfers on the PGA have pain in their lumbar spine area.
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The site suggests that the key to preventing lumbar pain (at least in golfers) is “to minimize the torsion stress by absorbing the rotation in the hips, knees and shoulders.” In other words, don’t allow an upper-body twist to be confined only to the lumbar area. This may take a little work. While it’s almost instinctive to rotate the torso with only five spinal vertebrae, it takes considerable focus to practice spreading the rotational forces around.
But it’s not only athletes who make the movement mistakes that cause lower back pain. Lumbar pain can come from trying to lift something too heavy, or even from poor posture. If you spend most of your day slumped over a desk or a device, you’ve probably allowed your spinal muscles to atrophy a little. Did you know that each of the 33 bones in the spine has its own ligaments and tendons? When these weaken from not being used, or not being used in the proper balance, it can cause excruciating pain – sometimes temporary, sometimes long term.
It helps to practice spreading spinal rotational forces around. Stand up and twist your torso to one side, while bringing your hip and upper thigh into the movement. Do the same in the other direction. Next, try twisting with the shoulders and upper back. You should feel this movement in the middle of the back, not in the lumbar area.
Never lift anything heavy with straight or nearly straight legs. Instead, flex (bend) at the hips, knees and ankles. When the joints of the lower body are in a flexed position, you will be capable of handling a heavy weight with more power and less chance of injury. You can’t bend your knees comfortably without also bending at the hips and ankles, so fix this mantra in your head: “Bend the knees,” “Bend the knees.” This includes not only heavy objects, but awkward ones as well. When picking up something like a chair, make sure it’s balanced at your center of mass – the middle of your body – as you lift it.
Back pain can be a subtle thing. It can be present in the morning due to your sleeping position at night, then disappear after a few wobbly steps. It can happen because you carry something in a back pocket that causes one glute to be higher than the other, resulting in an imbalance that creates pain.
Above all, keep your spinal column straight. Don’t allow your back muscles to weaken by leaning against the back of a seat for support or leaning forward slumped over a desk or table. Keep your spinal muscles strong by letting them support your back without help.